Innovation, cooperation in St. Tim’s ‘recipe for success’

| December 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

St. TimothyDon’t confuse Maple Lake with Maple Grove.

The small Wright County town — population 2,059 — sits near the northwestern edge of the archdiocese, nearly 60 miles from the Cathedral of St. Paul.

“We’re about as far out as you can get,” agreed Dawn Kincs, principal of St. Timothy School.

On the roads surrounding town this fall, piles of pumpkins were for sale on carts and wagons in front of farms. St. Timothy draws students from those farms and small communities for miles around Maple Lake.

With the addition of preschool this school year, enrollment is at 128, and that’s part of the upswing Kincs sees as she nears her third anniversary there.

Stacked in her office were boxes of new Chromebooks that had just arrived. Grants helped the school purchase them — along with Smartboards for every classroom, desktop computers to run the Smartboards, and iPads so every student in grades six through eight has one to use.

Another marker of progress is evident behind the 1956 school building: construction underway on a four-classroom addition, expected to be ready for students by February.

Enrollment ups and downs

Things haven’t always gone this well. Chris Paumen, who has taught at St. Timothy for 29 years, has seen enrollment on a roller coaster from 80 or so students to 140, down to 67 and now back up again.

Paumen teaches fourth grade, and said that when she started at St. Timothy after college, she was only planning to work there one year.

“It pulls you in — the family atmosphere, the parish, and being part of a cool team — so you stay,” she said.

Sister Mary Dominic Klaseus, a School Sister of Notre Dame, gets credit for reviving St. Timothy during one enrollment downward spiral, Paumen said.

When another drop occurred, Paumen and two other teachers worked with three school board members to devise a plan to keep the school alive.

“A lot of people pulled it together,” Paumen said. “We wanted to stay and make it work.”

Support from all around

Kincs initially came as an interim principal but gave up the temporary status. “I fell in love with the place,” she said.

Although she had taught in both Catholic and public schools, she felt pulled just as Paumen did.

“My own kids were in Catholic school,” she said. “That’s where my heart was. I just knew that’s where my calling was, where I needed to be.”

Kincs pointed to several reasons St. Timothy is doing as well as it is.

“The parents want this school here. They support this school [and] love this school,” she said, “and the school has the support of the teachers and the pastors who have been here.”

While tuition may prevent families from sending their children to a Catholic school, no child is turned away from St. Timothy, thanks to the support of St. Timothy parish.

“We have a lot of families that need assistance,” Kincs said, “and the people of this parish make it happen.”

Small class sizes — 14, for example, in the combined seventh and eighth grade — are one attraction. They allow for flexibility in individualizing education to meet either the enrichment or remedial needs of each student, Kincs said.

“We try to look at what larger schools do and ask how we can make that work for us,” she explained. “Everybody’s looking for what’s the best for our students.

“I think it’s a combination of great ideas, commitment, working together, passion,” she added. “It’s a recipe for success.”

That summarizes the meeting underway just steps away from the principal’s office in the kindergarten room. With the children at lunch, teacher Alyssa Sernett and volunteer classroom assistant Jeannie Otto were brainstorming about how to better meet a child’s needs.

With three part-time paraprofessionals; two teachers working toward master’s degrees through the Murray Institute at the University of St. Thomas; specialists in areas including religion, information technology and music; plus dedicated volunteers, Kincs said, “we’re able to ‘catch’ kids and work with them, and altogether it’s great.”

Taking on challenges

Asked to describe the educational program at their school, a cluster of teachers agreed that St. Timothy is traditional. Third-grade teacher Kristine Kolles added, “We’re trying to incorporate the new technology into the traditional methods, while not losing the best of the traditional.”

St. Timothy’s biggest challenge is space, which has spurred the building of the classroom addition, Kincs said.

To find room for the preschool program — a move Kincs saw as absolutely necessary as a feeder system for the school — seventh- and eighth- graders are using the former teachers’ lounge as their classroom.

But growth itself can bring other challenges.

“Parents are searching for something unique we have here — the closeness and family atmosphere,” Kincs said. “We want to grow without losing that closeness and the ability to do that individualized education.”

Upgrading the school’s Internet is the next challenge, she said. “It’s just old equipment that needs to be updated.”

Retirements have been the only recent reason for teacher turnover, Kincs recalled. “The staff is so committed to their faith . . . that’s why we’re here.”

Seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Theresa Heimkes answered quickly when asked what she likes best about teaching at St. Timothy: “The kids — and we can pray every morning and God helps us through the day.”

Father John Meyer, St. Timothy’s pastor, teaches two afternoons a week, guiding theology discussions to supplement religion classes.

“Father Meyer is committed to the school and excited to see where we’re headed,” Kincs said.

“He’s here a lot. He’ll come over at the close of the school day and talk with parents and students, and he’ll come over for lunch, too, especially if we’re having mac ’n’ cheese.

“The kids love him. Every table will yell, ‘Sit with us!’ ”

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Category: Catholic Education